An 81-year-old woman teared up as she ambled through Frank Lloyd Wright’s Oak Park, Ill., home and studio. The visit checked off a major bucket list item before age limited her mobility.
As she marveled at the facility, her intern tour guide, Daniel Zawadzki 20, realized the importance of Wright’s work. He grew up in suburban Chicago, where rows of similar homes and yards blended together without much to catch the eye. Now, architecture became art.
“People like her made pilgrimages to the home and studio all the time, and through that I saw architecture in a new light, ” the international studies and Spanish major said. “I didn’t realize a building is so much more than an edifice people use. It’s really a living, breathing thing.”
As a backup guide, or “interpreter,” Zawadzki saw how Wright’s work found value in the eyes of young, old, men, women and guests from Argentina, New Zealand, Senegal, Qatar and other locales. The intern was pressed into duty several times a day to give hour-long tours to overflow crowds, and he also led three-hour Sunday morning bike excursions to 21 Wright buildings within a mile of the base.
Each guest brought different interests and cultural expectations interpreters had to adapt to on the fly. That meant counting fireplaces with children and discussing construction materials with carpenters, wood and nails with carpenters, and plant locations with landscapers.
“Architecture is universal, just like art,” he said. “It’s one of the most unifying factors in the world that can break down cultural barriers.”
Zawadzki struck up a friendship with an Argentinian family who visited Chicago for a few weeks. The family of six, including four younger children, had difficulty communicating with staff the day they visited. Zawadzki overheard the distressed conversation and stepped in to translate. Following the tour, he explained the city’s transit system and pointed them to activities and restaurants at which language wouldn’t be an issue.
“It must be sensory overload to navigate the city in English. I give them credit for that,” Zawadzki said. “I became a face for the organization and U.S. If I do diplomacy or government work, I’ll constantly be in situations to break down barriers like that.”
Those conversations laid a foundation for Zawadzki’s future plans. With several contacts from Argentinian visitors, he plans to study abroad in the country before graduation. In the mean time, he’ll return to the Wright home and studio as an official volunteer during academic breaks.